To round out my stay, I spent a morning exploring Fort Clinch State Park, where I toured the Confederate Civil War fort, which was occupied by Union soldiers after Robert E. Lee determined it to be indefensible. The park also has several quiet beaches ideal for bird-watching, and a long fishing pier that juts out into the open ocean. There's a small entrance fee to drive into the park, and admission to the fort costs an additional $3.
And although I couldn't afford to stay at Amelia Island Plantation, I decided to check out its public facilities. The AAA-Four Diamond resort complex allows day visitors to wander through its upscale shopping village for free, receive treatments at its day spa, or participate in its nature programs.
Amelia Island touts itself as "the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry," and there's no better place to experience the source of that moniker than the Fernandina Seafood Market on N. Front Street. At this little shack of a restaurant, you can get a full shrimp basket for $8.25, and then watch the shrimp boats unload while you eat. Unfortunately, it was closed when I was there, but I'm told the portions are big and the food is quite good.
For something a little less rugged, I dined at La Bodega, a small cafe on South 3rd Street in Fernandina Beach. The cuisine is a mix of southern and eclectic. I had a Cajun-spiced Mahi Mahi with tropical fruit salsa that came with cheese grits and jalapeno collard greens on the side. The restaurant also makes unique ginger-thyme biscuits served with candied ginger and honey butter. Entrees average $20, which is quite a few dollars cheaper than most area restaurants.
Set in Northern Florida, Amelia Island entices visitors year-round who want to catch a few rays without the persistent heat and humidity associated with most of Florida. By September, temperatures drop into the comfortable 80s and don't rise again until summer, when families from nearby southern states flock to the island's shores for vacation. Winter and spring bring large events such as the shrimp festival, while fall is a more quiet time during which snowbirds start their annual descent. No matter when you go, anytime is ideal for seeing the historic sights or just passively day-dreaming on the beach.
I'll be heading to Bermuda for my next column, all for under $500. If there's a place you'd like me to explore in the future, please email me at email@example.com.
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